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Roles and Responsibilities

Relationship between supervisors, Graduate Director and research students

The relationship between supervisors, the Departmental Graduate Director and research students is critical to determining the quality of the student's postgraduate experience. This relationship is one of collaboration in a common enterprise and, for a successful collaboration all parties must recognise their separate responsibilities, set out below.

Responsibilities of Supervisors

A potential supervisor will not accept a student for supervision if there is any reason, such as lack of competence in the field of study, lack of facilities for the proposed research, lack of essential funding for fieldwork, the imminent departure of the supervisor from College, or over-commitment, that would lead to inadequate supervision during the projected period of the student's research.

Supervisors have both a reactive and a proactive role. On the one hand, a supervisor must be accessible to the student for academic help and advice during the progress of the research and the final preparation of the thesis. On the other hand, the supervisor has an active duty to be informed about the progress of the research student's work, to give frank and constructive opinions (whether or not these are asked for), to make sure that the student is aware of the quantity and quality of work required, and to negotiate and monitor a timetable for its submission.

To this end, student and supervisor should negotiate a programme of meetings at the beginning of each academic year. For most students on this programme, monthly meetings should be the norm, and these meetings should be held whether or not the student has completed a piece of written work. Supervisors on sabbatical leave are expected to continue their supervisory duties during this period. Supervisors will do everything they can to provide careful analysis and constructive criticism of all work submitted to them within an agreed period of time, and to make themselves available, as feasible, for discussions with students outside an agreed programme of meetings.

In order to provide continuity of supervision for PhD students allocated to a supervisor who may retire during the student's PhD trajectory the Department applies the following rules: If a principal supervisor becomes eligible for retirement within four years from the initial registration of a PhD student, a staff member, eligible for supervision, who is not eligible for retirement in this period is appointed as co-supervisor. Co-supervisors should be actively involved in the process of guiding and advising the students from the beginning of their PhD trajectory. Principal and co-supervisors are required to communicate regularly about the supervisee's progress, arrange joint meetings with the supervisee and agree on a common guidance strategy for the supervisee. As a rule, both principal and co-supervisors continue their duties during sabbaticals.

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Responsibilities of the Graduate Director as Advisor

An advisor's essential job is to help the student in all dealings with the Department and the College and to be aware of College regulations as far as they affect postgraduates: the Departmental Graduate Director fills this role. The reason for having an advisor who is not the supervisor is, of course, that the relationship between supervisor and student is one of the matters upon which advice might possibly be needed. Another reason is to give every student greater access to people in the department with whom he or she should maintain routine contact. A more extensive discussion of the role of the advisor can be found in the section below on resolving problems.

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Responsibilities of the Research Student

The research student must keep in contact with his or her supervisor/s and inform them on the progress of the research. He or she should meet the supervisors for discussions, submit written work and perform other academic exercises according to the timetable negotiated with the supervisor/s. While the doors of most members of the department are nearly always open to postgraduates, students should remember that members of staff do have other responsibilities, and that these may at time preclude a member of staff dropping everything to give them immediate unscheduled attention.

Students should inform their supervisors as early as possible of anything that might affect their ability to complete an agreed programme of work on schedule, rather than bringing problems to the department only at a late stage. The essential point to remember is that the department supports its postgraduate students in relation to almost any problem that might arise, and will do everything possible to help, given good notice and the information necessary to do so. If for some reason a student opts to withdraw from the PhD programme at any stage they must immediately inform in writing a) their supervisor b) the Departmental Graduate Director and c) the Graduate Studies Office.

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Resolving Problems

Although rare, problems may arise between advisor, supervisor and student. In such cases it is important for students to know what to do. In the first instance, student and advisor or supervisor should meet informally to discuss the problem and attempt to resolve it in a balanced manner. The most likely outcome is that any misunderstanding can be ironed out at an early stage.

If an informal discussion of problems fails to find a solution, then the student should write a letter to the advisor or supervisor setting out the problem in more formal terms, and send a copy of this letter to the Departmental Graduate Director. In exceptional circumstances, when a student may be unwilling to commit such problems to paper, a meeting should be sought with the School Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate). If the advisor or supervisor is still unable to offer a resolution of the problems set out in the letter from the student, then the School's Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate) will meet both student and supervisor individually and attempt to negotiate a solution. If the student is unwilling to accept the solution offered by the Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate) , there is no alternative but to take the matter up with the Dean of Graduate Studies and implement the procedures set out in Part 2 of the University Calendar. It is, however, very unlikely that any problem, handled in an open and reasonable manner by all concerned, should ever get this far!

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